As of August 2012, I had seen roughly 2/3 of Elvis's movies. Before you get indignant, let me say that I had seen the best ones and was missing mainly his later ones, with the exception of Kissin' Cousins (1964) and Roustabout (1964), which somehow I had missed before, even though I know the title songs well.
Since August, I have watched the following films:
The aforementioned Kissin' Cousins and Roustabout
Girl Happy (1965)
Tickle Me (1965)
Paradise Hawaiian Style (1966)
Easy Come, Easy Go (1967)
The Trouble with Girls (1969)
Before seeing all of these, I thought I had seen Paradise Hawaiian Style but not Tickle Me. It turns out it was the other way around! I just knew the opening theme to Paradise, but the rest of the movie was not familiar at all. Maybe I saw part of it on TV once? On the other hand, I felt major movie deja vu when I watched Tickle Me (and not just because there were scantily-clad girls falling all over Elvis while he was singing). The part that convinced me I'd seen the movie before was when Elvis, his love interest, and the nerdy guy are all trapped in that old hotel and the weird monsters in masks are chasing them all over the place. That's when I knew - that part of the movie was too strange to forget!
Of all of these films, clearly Tickle Me has the soundtrack advantage because a new movie soundtrack was not recorded and, instead, songs were picked up from Elvis is Back! (1960), Something for Everybody (1961), Pot Luck (1962), and the Fun in Acapulco soundtrack (1963). "It's a Long Lonely Highway," one of my favorites, was recorded in 1963 as well and is listed in the Kissin' Cousins soundtrack as a bonus track that was not featured in the film. Some of my favorite songs from the early '60s are represented here, but the fact that the soundtrack is a random compilation of previously-released music makes the soundtrack rather disjointed. It may have been Peter Guralnick who pointed out that the Viva Las Vegas soundtrack (1964) is the only one that resembles a regular musical soundtrack in that it serves to move the plot forward. The Tickle Me soundtrack, while full of great tunes, doesn't serve any purpose in the movie other than to be forms of entertainment for the women at the fat camp.
The title theme in Roustabout is one of those songs that I can I just break into singing, because it's a song I heard a lot growing up on The Essential '60s Masters: Volume II. Other than that tune, the only other really interesting one on the soundtrack is "Little Egypt," though upon close scrutiny of the lyrics you cringe at the racism of the "ying-ying" line (which my sister had to point out as she was watching that part of the movie with me). I've come to accept some of the un-P.C. aspects of Elvis's songs as par for the course when you're dealing with 1950s and 1960s pop culture. I don't condone racism or sexism at all, but if I were to refuse to listen to any Elvis music or watch any of his movies that included one or both of these offenses, I wouldn't be able to watch any of the films, and there would be a bunch of songs I'd have to exclude from my library. I don't believe that Elvis was a racist; I do believe that there were many occasions where he was sexist, but so were a lot of men of his generation. Not to say that it's acceptable, but it's a flaw of his that I have come to accept in order to appreciate the broader impact of his personality and music on our culture.
The Trouble with Girls was an odd duck of sorts, though it had a semi-interesting plot. The odd part is that Elvis was very serious in this film, not the brooding kind of seriousness found in Jailhouse Rock (1957) or Roustabout, but just grown-up serious. It was nice to see a talented co-star (Marlyn Mason). As much as the Colonel wanted Elvis's films to focus exclusively on his client's talent, I think the films in which Elvis had a co-star with similar singing abilities helped balance the pictures and made them seem less like Elvis showcases and more like true films. I'll refer back to Viva Las Vegas and say that Ann-Margret was probably his best co-star in this regard. My favorite song in The Trouble with Girls is "Swing Down Sweet Chariot," originally from the album His Hand in Mine (1960). Though the song works well in the context of the plot - a gospel group needed a fill-in singer for its performance at the festival - Elvis's character seemed out of place singing and moving like he did, based on what we had seen of him throughout the rest of the movie. Elvis's movements were also kind of jerky, like he was trying to imitate the moves that had been so natural to him when he was younger. (Is this his fault or the fault of the choreographer? I don't know.)
The inclusion of the two children was interesting, especially since one was white and one was black and it seems to be accepted that they're best friends. This surprises me since the film takes place in the 1920s and the film was made at the end of a decade of racial violence that culminated with the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. the year before. Given the racist and sexist elements in his earlier films, this film seems to take a step forward toward racial acceptance. As a student of history, it's interesting to me to analyze how the events going on in the outside world influence popular culture. Of course, the mother of the little girl is still portrayed as a whore
because she is single and, therefore, is prone to fool around with a
local married man. Clearly not all stereotypes could be abandoned.
Speaking of children, the girl in Paradise Hawaiian Style (Donna Butterworth) was quite talented. I can imagine that Elvis might have felt unhappy about singing with a child because he might have interpreted it as another way that people were making fun of him, but I think she was a good addition to the cast. I think the scene in which dogs are climbing all over him in a helicopter and he's singing "A Dog's Life" would have been much more embarrassing. Other than the cute scenes between Jan (the little girl) and Elvis, the rest of the movie plays like a typical Elvis movie, in which there's a scheme to start a new business and Elvis chases oodles of women while attempting this endeavor. Of the Hawaii movies, Blue Hawaii (1961) remains my favorite.
Given the length of this post already, I'll just say that I thought Kissin' Cousins was goofy and that Girl Happy failed to live up to its title. Elvis seemed the least crazy about girls in this movie. Shelley Fabares was a good part of the cast, as she falls into the category of talented co-stars. It was funny to watch Gary Crosby, who looked like a younger version of his father, Bing, just with more hair.
Only 5 movies to go! Stay tuned!